March 4, 2020


In order to be elected judge in Cook County an aspiring lawyer must be well-handled, uncancelled and well-positioned on the ballot, which is undeniably the essence of the art of judgemaking.

Lawyers can be politically clueless, as can the general public and the voting electorate. They can have no idea how these supposedly magnificent, all-seeing, all-knowing creatures in black robes got on the bench and have the power to make decisions which affect people’s lives, liberty, wealth, economic security and future pursuit of happiness.

The answer is elemental: They either PAID-OFF the county Democratic Party, to the tune of $40,000, to get slated, or they PAID for and hired a handler (also known as a “consultant”) to guide them through the labyrinth of party slating and/or petition-gathering, ballot-positioning and marketing, advertising and scheduling, all for about $25,000. It is said that “justice is blind,” but to be in a position to blindly dispense justice costs money.

There are 378 Circuit Court judges in Cook County, of which 138 are appointed (by the elected judges) as associate judges for 4-year terms, and the remaining 240 elected, with 155 from 15 subcircuits and 85 countywide, for 6-year terms with a retention vote required. Cook County also elects three state Supreme Court justices, of which one is on the March 17 ballot, for a 10-year term, and 24 1st District Appellate Court justices, of which two are on the ballot this year, also for a 10-year term. There are ten Circuit Court vacancies.

There are certain immutable facts: The Democratic primary is determinative. Slated women almost always win, especially if they have an Irish surname – which is now being eclipsed by women with a Latina name. Men, slated or not, even with an Irish surname, don’t win countywide, unless they are African-American and not running against an Irish-surnamed female.

Slating ensures a floor of 30 to 35 percent, which is why slated women win. Identity politics, which means exploiting one’s race, gender and/or sexual orientation, is critical to victory. Ballot position matters, especially being on top. Cancellation matters, like having more than one woman and/or minority in a specific contest. There are 42 Circuit Court candidates, of which 28 are women, ten are African-American, five are Hispanic, one is Asian and two openly LGBTQ. Twenty-one candidates have Irish surnames, of which 17 are women. Qualifications, as reflected by bar association and media endorsements, are irrelevant. Only about a tenth of the voters know for whom they vote.

There will roughly be 1,425,000 Democratic voters in the primary, more than half of them “progressives” who are supporting either Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, and will opt for “diversity,” which in a field of unknowns means a vote for an identifiable minority. There will probably be a “black slate” in African-American areas listing black candidates, and about 500,000 Democrats voting the 13-judge “party slate,” which will be disseminated countywide through three mailings of sample ballots and on election day through palm cards. There is also a 9-person “Assistant State’s Attorney slate,” composed of county prosecutors working for State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, and a “McSister” slate, also known as the “Sauganash Four,” consisting of four Irish-surnamed women who filed against the four slated men, three of whom are black. That caused huge pushback, especially after each “McSister” - Beth Ryan, Suzanne Therese McEneely, Jennifer Callahan and Heather Ann Kent - pumped in $100,000 of their own money for billboards throughout the county. But there are many demographic overlaps, prompting cancellations.

A small group of consultants  - Mary Kay Dawson, Frank Calabrese, Tom Stapka and Sean Tenner — have monopolized the obscure but lucrative judgemaking market, telling would-be judges what to do and where to go, thus collecting hefty fees and commissions. Lawyers may be lacking in political smarts, but not money. Stapka masterminded the “McSister” ploy, and at least two of his clients, all of whom live in Sauganash/Wildwood on the far Northwest Side, will win.

It’s called “cherry-picking.” Find the weakest links on the slate, find a non-male candidate with money, put a “shill” or two in the contest to fractionalize the vote, and be heralded as a judgemaking genius. Then, after filing, run the hapless candidate all around the county to Democratic fund-raisers, buying $200 to $300 worth of tickets at each. (I have been to many events over the years, and the judge candidates show up, stand in a corner with each other, congratulate themselves on their mighty efforts, and rarely work the crowd.) That’s called clueless, but it at least makes them feel like they’re doing something.

A vacancy is given the name of the former occupant on the ballot.

KEVN SHEEHAN VACANCY: This is the ballot’s marquee race, with Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the LGBTQ community coming in vigorously behind appointed judge Jill Rose Quinn, who is transgender. She faces James Samuel Worley and Wendelin DeLoach. The mayor said she hopes Quinn will be Illinois’ “first transgender judge,” and is pouring in resources. Prediction: Quinn wins with 60 percent.

BELLOWS VACANCY: The Democratic establishment is livid about this developing race, in which appointed judge Kerrie Maloney Laytin was slated last summer. Kristin Duffy, an ASA, was slated as a “third alternate,” meaning she got a spot if a third vacancy opened before filing. She sat in on all party training and strategy sessions. And then she filed against Laytin and will be on the ballot as Kristin Keely McDonald Duffy. The party’s attitude is that such duplicity should not go unpunished. Also running is Tiesha Smith. Prediction: The longest Irish-surname on the ballot will not beat Laytin.

GORMAN VACANCY: Appointed judge Sheree Henry has been politically active in the south suburbs for decades. She was slated and needs no handler. Also running are two women, Amanda Pillsbury, Keely Hillison, and Daniel Walsh. This has cancellation written all over it. Pillsbury and Hillison ran in 2018 against a slated African-American man, who won. Prediction: Rack up another loss for Pillsbury and Hillison.

LARSEN VACANCY: Another cancellation looms. Appointed judge Levander Smith Jr.,  faces two women - McEneely and Megan Kathleen Mulay, who is Hispanic. Smith is from Oak Pak, and has a lot of overlaps. Decisive will be the support of new Senate President Don Harmon, the Oak Park Township Democratic committeeman, who is pushing Smith hard. Prediction: Smith wins.

MASON VACANCY: Of the ten slatees, there was only one white man – Chris Stacey, whose name is androgynous. Multiple complications abound. Callahan is running, as is Bonnie McGrath, a perpetual shill put up by Paul Rosenfeld, the 47th Ward Democratic committeeman who got Stacey slated. McGrath will cancel some Callahan votes. Two African-American candidates are running, Joy Tolbert Nelson on the ASA slate, and Arthur Sutton, plus Joseph Chico, former mayoral candidate Gery Chico’s brother. Prediction: Callahan wins narrowly.

COUGHLAN VACANCY: Appointed judge James Derico, who is black, faces Ryan and Kelly Marie McCarthy, who is listed first, and Aileen Bhandari, who is on the ASA slate. A black man with an Italian-sounding name is not in a good place. Prediction: Not enough overlaps for Derico. McCarthy wins.

O’BRIEN VACANCY: Lloyd James Brooks is neutral ballot name and he is black and slated, and he has two Irish-surnamed female foes: Kent and Elizabeth Ann Walsh on the ASA slate. There is a lot of cancellation. Prediction: The floor could be enough to save Derico, but a squeaker win by Walsh is likely.

McCARTHY VACANCY: This will be telling- a Latina versus an Irish-surnamed man. A few cycles ago his would be a no-brainer. Not in 2020. The slated Teresa Molina faces Mike O’Malley, who put together the ASA slate. O’Malley lost badly in a four-candidate 2018 primary, finishing third behind an Irish-surnamed woman (who won) and the slated man. Now it’s binary. Prediction: Who are the liberals and women going to pick? Not O’Malley.

ROTI VACANCY: Are white Irish-surnamed women the next to face obsolescence?  This will also be telling -Araceli De La Cruz versus ASA Lorraine Murphy and James Crawley. De La Cruz was not rated qualified by the associations and Murphy was and is first on the ballot. Prediction: This will be really close. Slight edge to Murphy.

FUNDERBURK VACANCY: The appointed/slated judge is Celestia Mays, who has the benefit of running against two Irish-surnamed females, Jacqueline Griffin on the ASA slate and Mary Quinn and Daniel Collins. Griffin is first on the ballot, comes from Bridgeport, and has lot of Organized Labor backing. Prediction: Griffin will edge Mays, but not by much.

FORD VACANCY: Appointed/ slated judge Laura Ayala-Gonzalez faces two men - John O’Meara and U. O’Neal, the latter being black and having run for judge in 2018 as Ubi O’Neal. Prediction: Ayala-Gonzalez wins big.

COLLEEN SHEEHAN VACANCY: Let the testosterone flow. A white guy WINS here. A break-through. Russ Hartigan is a chronic judge-seeker, but may have found a perfect storm. Deidre Bauman and the slated Maura McMahon Zeller will each get about 33 percent. Prediction: Hartigan will squeeze in with 34 percent.

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